Macaca nigra

Geographic Distribution & Habitat

Crested black macaques are found only in Indonesia, restricted to the northeastern-most peninsula of Sulawesi island (formerly known as Celebes) along the Onggak Dumoga River and the megalithic Mount Padang, and to Sulawesi’s neighboring islands of Pulau Manadotua and Pulau Talise. Historically, these Old World monkeys had also lived on the island of Pulau Lembeh, but they have since been eradicated. A secondary population, introduced by humans in 1867, lives 345 miles from Sulawesi on Pulau Bacan, in Indonesia’s Maluki islands.

The crested black macaque goes by several names, including: Sulawesi macaque, Celebes black macaque, Celebes crested macaque, and Celebes macaque. However, the colloquial local name for this primate is Yaki.

On Sulawesi, the largest population of crested black macaques lives in the lowland tropical rainforest of Tangkoko Nature Reserve. Elevations range from sea level to 4,432 feet (1,351 m)  with an annual rainfall between 4 and 8 feet (1.5-2.4 m) and fairly constant temperatures ranging from 71-degrees F ( 22 C) to 94-degrees  F ( 34 C).

Characterized by its volcanic geography, Tangkoko includes primary and secondary forests. But the reserve is also marred by areas of habitat disturbance, including burned-out landscapes and clear-cut areas of forest. The concentration of macaques in these areas is relative to the severity of the disturbance.

On Pulau Bacan, crested black macaques can be found in the nature reserve of Gunung Sibela. Habitat includes lowland tropical forests and montane rainforests with elevations up to 6,922 ft (2,110 m). Temperature and climate are similar to Sulawesi. As on Sulawesi’s Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Gunung Sibela includes areas of habitat disturbance that determine the concentration of crested black macaques living in fragmentations of forest.

Crested black macaque geographic range, IUCN 2022

Size, Weight, and Lifespan

Heady-to-body length in male crested black macaques ranges between 1.6 to 2 feet (.5 to .6 m) with a weight between 13 to 23 pounds (5.9 to 10.4 kg).

Heady-to-body length in female crested black macaques ranges between 1.44 to 1.8 feet (.44 to .55 cm) with a weight between 8 and 12 pounds (3.6 to 5.5 kg).

The tiny tail on these monkeys is barely measureable at 0.39 inch (1 cm) to 1.18 inches (3 cm).

Crested black macaques live from 18 to 25 years in the wild.

What Does It Mean?

A part of the body that in the course of evolution, has degenerated and become functionless; the last small part that remains of something that once existed.

Visit the Glossary for more definitions


The crested black macaque is the punk rocker of the rainforest. Or at least, this stocky and compact primate with the spiked crest of black hair on the crown of its head, from which it derives its name, resembles a punk rocker—reminiscent of that cultural epoch populated by iconic punk rock human primates that include the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

Except for their distinctive pink rumps, the bodies of crested black macaques are covered in a smooth, jet-black coat; their elongated faces are hairless. Close-set brown eyes peer out from their countenance, and prominent ridges frame their nose.

Because of their vestigial stub of a tail, which can go unnoticed, crested black macaques have sometimes been misidentified as apes.

Indicative of the species’ sexual dimorphism, meaning that distinct differences in appearance exist between the sexes, female crested black macaques are graced with larger, rosier, and rounder derrieres than their male counterparts, who sit on heart-shaped bottoms of a paler pink.


Crested black macaques are frugivorous, which means that they love their fruits! Seventy percent of their diet is comprised of various fruits from 150 species of fruit trees. Completing the crested black macaque’s meal plan are leaves, buds, seeds, caterpillars, spiders, bird eggs, and the occasional lizard, mouse, or frog.

Food not immediately eaten is sometimes stored in their cheek pouches for a later snack.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Mostly terrestrial, crested black macaques spend greater than 60 percent of their day on the ground. They cover territory quadrupedally (on all fours) while foraging for food. Overnight is spent in trees, where they might also find a bite to eat.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics 

Highly social creatures, crested black macaques live in groups of 5 to 25 individuals, with the occasional group of 75 individuals. (Prior to their habitat destruction and subsequent population decline, groups of 100 individuals were the norm.)

One dominant male leads smaller groups; larger groups might have up to four males. Adult females outnumber adult males by a 4 to 1 ratio.


Communication among crested black macaques consists of a variety of vocalizations and postures, used for different situations. Grunts often accompany group grooming, a common pastime that strengthens social bonds. To assert their dominance and avoid conflict, adult males will bare their large canine teeth in a threatening grimace.

Reproduction and Family

Promiscuous primates, both males and females will mate multiple times with multiple partners. However, the group’s dominant male will do his best to monopolize the willing females. Females alert males to their readiness and willingness by the extreme swelling and brightening of their already plump and rosy buttocks. Breeding is non-seasonal.

After a gestation period of 5.8 months (174 days), a single infant is born who will be nursed by his or her mother for one year. Crested black macaques reach sexually maturity at 4 to 6 years; females reach maturity a bit sooner than males. Young adult males are forced to leave their birth group upon maturity and will sometimes form “bachelor groups” before seeking a mixed-gender group to join.

Ecological Role

With a diet high in fruit and seeds, crested black macaques likely play a role in tree propagation by dispersing seeds throughout the forest floor.

Conservation Status and Threats

Of the seven species of macaque with whom it shares a habitat and a genus, the crested black macaque holds the ignoble distinction of being classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN. 2015). This classification places the crested black macaque at the highest possible risk for extinction in the wild.

The species has suffered a continuing decline in the past three generations (approximately 33 years). The population is suspected to have been reduced by more than 80% due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.

Hunting, particularly in Sulawesi’s Tangkoko Nature Reserve, is the greatest threat against these primates, whose flesh is considered a delicacy and sold through the bush meat trade. Others are victims of the live animal trade. All are vulnerable to habitat loss from encroaching human settlements and from environmental plunder, including the extensive and illegal mining for gold, using mercury, within the crested black macaques’ habitat.

Crested black macaques of Tangkoko represent the natural population of the species. Their island habitat, however, is fragile with an increasingly limited amount of land for the wildlife species who live there. Preserving their forest homes, therefore, is paramount not only for the crested black macaque but also for the overall biodiversity of the area.

Conservation Efforts

International trade of the crested black macaque is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  Although these monkeys live in island areas where hunting, logging, and clear cutting are illegal, these bans have been difficult to enforce.

The mission of Macaca Nigra Project, founded in April 2006, is to study the ecology, reproductive biology, and social system of Sulawesi crested black macaques in their natural habitat and to promote conservation of this fascinating species through a joint project between the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), the Indonesian Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), West Java, and the University Sam Ratulangi (UNSRAT), North Sulawesi. The field site is located in the Tangkoko-Batuangus Nature Reserve, North Sulawesi.

With a goal of ending the wildlife trade in North Sulawesi, Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Center works with government law enforcement agencies through spreading conservation education, advocacy, and awareness of nature protection laws/values and by supporting the execution and follow-up of law enforcement activities.

Tangkoko Education Conservation, founded in 2011 and based in Girian, Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia, works with local youth and community of the villages surrounding the reserves and other protected forest of North Sulawesi, to  increase awareness of the environment and promote the importance of conservation.

A local conservation group, Selamatkan Yaki (Indonesian for “Save the Sulawesi Crested Black Macaques”), has dedicated itself to preserving a self-sustaining population of these monkeys and protecting their forest habitat. Under the auspices of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT), “an education, scientific and conservation charity dedicated to protecting our global wildlife heritage and inspiring in people a respect for animals, plants and the environment,” Selamatkan Yaki has created a Species Conservation Action Plan focusing on the crested black macaque.

This action plan includes research and education programs, implemented in the community and at the university level; teaching locals sustainable agriculture techniques and alternative livelihoods; ecotourism; partnering with other conservation societies, including the Wildlife Conservation Society (based in the United States); and partnering with zoos, primarily in Europe, to create off-site conservation of endangered species captive breeding programs. WWCT currently manages successful breeding groups of crested black macaques at two zoos in the United Kingdom.

Fun Facts

A so-called “selfie” photograph, snapped in 2011 by an intrepid crested black macaque who made use of a photographer’s staged camera, ultimately went viral. The image of this smiling punk-rock primate, which flashed across morning and evening television news programs and across social media, sparked a debate—and a lawsuit—concerning copyright issues.

David Slater, the photographer who set up his camera in the forest in the hope that a crested black macaque would make use of the remote trigger and photograph herself, claimed copyright to the resulting monkey selfie, arguing that he engineered the shot. But counsel for social media outlet Wikipedia argued that the image was in the public domain and that neither the monkey nor Slater, who didn’t physically hold the camera to create the now-famous monkey selfie, were entitled to its copyright. A December 22, 2014,  ruling from the United States Copyright Office supported Wikipedia’s argument, stating that works created by non-humans, including a “photograph taken by a monkey” are not covered by copyright. Slater has threatened to sue Wikipedia for copyright infringement.

But in September 2015, the controversial animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit against Slater for copyright infringement. PETA claims that Slater illegally profited through licensing of the monkey selfie, and related selfies in that collection, prior to the photographs appearing in the public domain. These monies, PETA says, are owed to the far-from-camera-shy female crested black macaque, whom PETA has named Naruto, and who snapped her own photo. PETA is also seeking copyright ownership for Naruto and wants to administer proceeds from the iconic photo to benefit the conservation of the crested black macaque. However, in January 2016 a U.S. district judge dismissed PETA’s case, asserting that copyright law does not currently extend to animals. Not to be deterred, PETA filed a notice of appeal on March 20, 2016.

September 2017 update: After a two-year legal battle, PETA and Slater reached an out-of-court agreement. As part of the settlement, Slater will donate 25 percent of proceeds from sales or usage of the now-famous “monkey selfies” to charities in Indonesia that protect crested macaques. PETA had sought to “extend fundamental rights to animals for their own sake—not in relation to the ways in which they can be exploited by humans.” For his part, Slater had stated: “Promotion and conservation of the crested black macaque, an extremely endangered relative of ours, was my original intention when I visited Sulawesi.” With the closure of this prolonged, contentious lawsuit, both PETA and Slater sealed their acrimony with the release of a joint statement, focusing on their mutual advocacy to expand legal rights for nonhuman animals and to recognize these beings as “our fellow global occupants.”


Written by Kathleen Downey, April 2016. Conservation Status updated December 2020.